NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sheer grit helped Belmont University rally late and push for a five-set victory on Tuesday night in the Curb Event Center. The Bruins (3-20, 3-8 OVC) bounced back from a two set deficit to overcome crosstown rival Tennessee State (8-14, 6-5 OVC), 3-2.
Tennessee State batted back spurts and sparks from the Belmont squad through both of the first two sets to stand at 2-0 at intermission. The Bruins had seen promising play from senior Alexa Nichols (Walton, Ky.) and freshman Taylor Floyd (Louisville, Ky.) that kept the team within striking distance in both frames. However, the best was yet to come.
Belmont came out red hot to start the third frame, opening with a blistering 8-0 run. Tennessee State was forced to call a timeout in hopes of slowing the Bruins. TSU came out hot, seeking to quickly make up ground and clawed back to within one, 9-8, but BU was able to maintain a small, but effective point differential. The teams became stalemated six times before Belmont pulled ahead by one, 21-20, after a block assist from senior Maggie Mullins (Nashville, Tenn.) and sophomore Mackenzie LePage (Franklin, Tenn.). The Tigers burned their second timeout of the set but handed BU a pair of points off attack errors. Belmont surged down the stretch to clench the set, 25-22, using a block assist from Mullins and Nichols and a kill down the left side by freshman Mary Catherine Ball (Hendersonville, N.C.).
The Bruins were able to build on the momentum coming into the fourth set, taking another early lead. However, the score would be tied twice before Tennessee State rebounded and grabbed the lead 15-12, forcing BU to call for a huddle session. Belmont continued to chip away at the Tiger lead, inching to within one, 20-19. A service ace by Mullins knotted the score before a TSU attack error put the Bruins in the lead, 21-20. Suddenly, a 3-0 run put the Bruins at the door of set point and a block assist by Nichols and Ball sealed the 25-20 win and forced a fifth set.
The two teams battled back and forth on the first few points to open the fifth and final set before the Bruins rolled off four-straight points to take a 7-4 lead. The flurry forced the stunned Tigers to burn a timeout. However, BU kept pushing and led at the switch, 8-4, thanks to kills by Mullins and Floyd. After the break, Belmont continued to roll with the assistance of a 3-0 run to go up, 11-4. The Tigers attempted to threaten late and were able to double their point output to close within five points, 13-8. A resounding block from TSU saw the Bruins call timeout to preserve their lead. The brief break in the action was all Belmont needed as it barreled toward its third victory of the season. A kill from Ball lifted the Bruins to set point and long attack helped Belmont secure the 15-9 victory to take the match.
Three Bruins reached double digits in kills, led by Floyd, who recorded 16. Nichols posted 15 while Ball contributed 12 kills. Sophomore Akia Warrior (Fort Worth, Texas) tallied 38 kills. Four players notched double digits in digs - senior Haley Sullivan (Lemont, Ill.) with a career-high 23, Floyd with 16 to help her to her first collegiate double-double, freshman Peyton Kelley (Normal, Ill.) with 11 and Mullins with 10.
Belmont returns to action on Saturday afternoon with a road match at Eastern Illinois. Match time is set for 2 p.m. Live stats will be available. Fans may also follow the team's Twitter account (@BelmontVB) for live, in-game updates.